PokerListings.com is the world's largest and most trusted online poker guide, offering the best online poker bonus deals guaranteed, over $1m in exclusive freerolls every year and the most free poker content available on the Web.
3,000-Player MTTs Part 1
This is part one of a guide to going deep in large multi-table tournaments.
Big tourneys with lots of players will result in very large payouts - often over 1,000 times the size of the original buy-in.
This is more than enough reason to spend some time ironing out your MTT strategy.
Pick Your Goal
If you've never thought about it, you naturally assume that everyone's goal in a tournament is to win first place.
The reality is that most players aren't playing for first place at all. They're playing to make the money.
For the majority of players, finishing anywhere in the money is considered a win. These are the players who would like the big first-place prize, but are happy just to not lose their buy-in.
For them, the battle is won by making money. If you make money, you're a winner while those who don't are the losers.
In contrast, the players who are playing to win first are putting themselves at much higher risk of busting out before the money in return for a decent chance at making a very deep run.
The first thing you have to do is choose what your goal is.
Don't pick one because it sounds good - you have to make a choice that is true to your needs, and that you can follow.
If your goal is to play to win, 3,000th-place and second-place are the same result as far as you're concerned.
For good tournament players, this mentality is the more profitable choice.
Here's the easiest way to explain it:
Let's take a scenario in which you're set to play 10 $1,000 buy-in tourneys.
In the first scenario, you're playing to make the money. Five times out of 10 you bust before the money; the other five you make it just inside the money.
Lose 5 x $1,000: -$5,000
Limp into Money 5 x $2,000: $10,000
Total Profit: $5,000
In the second scenario, you're playing to win. You bust out early in nine of the tourneys and win the 10th:
Lose 9 x $1,000: -$9,000
Win 1 x $300,000: $300,000
Total Profit: $291,000
Real Money is in the Win
As you can see by these rough numbers, the real money is in winning a tourney.
The variance is much larger, as the most you could ever have been down in the first scenario was -$5,000, with the second-worst scenario being almost double that at -$9,000.
Keep in mind these numbers are just to show you the massive difference in the possible payouts.
It's ludicrous to expect to consistently win one out of 10 massive MTTs.
But with a first-place payout of $300,000, you can afford to lose a couple hundred times before you win and still make a tidy profit.
The players who play to just make the money will argue that they have a chance at winning as well, as well as making the money more often.
Although they do make the money more frequently, it's similar to cash-game players who manufacture winning streaks.
If you're limping into the money at the tournament chip average or less, you're going to have to become a serious card rack to make it deep.
The players who are playing to win will have spaced out their gambling across the whole tournament, while you will be forced to take as much or more risk in a very short period to make a run at the final table.
Manufactured Winning Streaks
Many cash-game players are addicted to the concept of winning sessions, ignoring long-term results and calculated hourly earnings.
These players will quit a winning session at a fraction of the total amount they stood to win in an effort to always finish in the black.
The mentality of having to win in a specific session is dangerous for a serious poker player, though, because it can limit wins and sometimes even force excessive losses.
There are times when you are just not going to play good poker.
You may be tired, depressed or just a little scattered. If you force yourself to stay at the table, chasing your losses to grind out a meager win for the session, you risk going horribly deep.
Manufacturing wins can result in limited winnings and exaggerated losses.
The Lucksack Strategy
The first thing to understand with tournaments of this size is that you're going to be forced to gamble at multiple points to have a shot at booking a win.
You're going to have to win multiple coin flips, have your hands hold up to multiple strong draws, and commonly get a little, or a lot, lucky when you get it in bad.
The best MTT professionals understand the need to be lucky, and incorporate it into their game plan.
Amateurs often look at tournament professionals and comment about how lucky they are all the time.
But in fact, other than the odd natural streaks of luck, the professionals are no more lucky than you.
The big difference is they're taking the situations where they need to win a coin flip, or need to catch some luck, and making sure they happen at opportune moments.
In a situation where you hold a hand with a 60% probability to win against your one opponent, would you rather get it all-in against a player who has one-third of your stack or a player who has you covered?
Amateurs will often answer "one-third," because if they lose they will still have chips to keep playing.
The problem with this choice is it will force you into circumstances where you have to take a similar risk just to get back to where you were originally.
A professional is playing to win and would rather take the same risks for the large pots which will put them into contention to go deep into the field and maybe even make a final-table run.
Consider Your ROI
The other thing to consider is the ROI. If you're playing in tournaments offering over 1,000 times your buy-in, you can afford to make strong moves to try for a deep finish.
As a solid player, you're bound to have your luck hold out more than a couple of times out of a thousand.
Every time you see a professional player making it deep into a big tourney, you can look back and find a whole slew of hands where the player "got lucky."
To use the lucksack strategy to your own ends, you want to make sure that you're taking these risks when it's most profitable to do so.
You're going to have to gamble at multiple points in a tournament, absolutely - so make sure you do it when you stand to gain the most.
More to Come
The second half of this article will expand this look into MTTs by exploring strategy and game theory to help get you to the final table of these large events.
In the meantime, start wrapping your head around the concept of playing to win. Focus on finishing first, not just in the money.
More strategy articles from Sean Lind: